The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


How can L Street's cycle track markings be clearer?

The L Street cycle track is open, but the pavement markings are confusing some people. Car drivers planning to turn left off of L Street often don't understand how to cross the cycle track into the turn lane, and instead stay in the travel lane only to cross in front of the bike lane at the intersection.

In response, Twitter user @whiteknuckled proposes some modifications to the markings:

I am always in favor of more green paint on bike lanes, and this idea is no exception. However, the real key to solving this problem is the arrows on each car lane, especially the "left turn enter" one, which indicates to drivers where to cross over the bike lane. That's the awkward movement, so that's what needs to be as clear as possible.

In a Twitter response, DDOT notes that bikes turning left are also supposed to use the left turn lane, which is why they used sharrow markings in that area. But DDOT's Twitter rep also promised to pass along this idea to the bike team for their thoughts.

Cycle tracks are still a pretty new thing in the United States, so it's natural that designers need to experiment a little with different options. DDOT deserves enormous praise for being on the very cutting edge of this field.

Other DOTs might have waited years until all these design questions are answered and there's an adopted nationwide standard for every conceivable layout, but DC needs better bikeways now, and DDOT is doing its best to deliver. That's great.

But it also means they may have to adjust the lanes as we learn how cyclists and drivers interact with it in the real world.

Ideally DDOT could apply both the turn markings and green paint section, as whiteknuckled suggests, but at a minimum, "left turn enter" markings for cars could make a big difference.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


Add a comment »

When I'm driving in an areas with a lot of traffic i do not like relying on markings on the road surface, e.g left turn only from this lane. In fact I am very frustrated by this and HATE it. Drivers can not see markings on the road surface unless there is no one in front of them, or by the time its too late to make a safe lane change.

Signs need to be posted between the bike lane and the left travel lane, at least two of them leading up to the corner, giving drivers enough time to safely prepare for the lane change. These signs will also warn bikers to be aware that a car is coming over to make a left turn.

Relying on painted road markings in any area that has a lot of traffic is stupid b/c drivers can't see them.

by Tina on Nov 14, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

in 15 years of biking, I had my first negtive vehicle incident on the L st bike lane -- the part I complain about Penn Ave to New Hamshpire. DDOT truck was in the bike lane, didn't realize someone was in in, and as I frantically tried to avoid it as it pulled out wiped out.

Agreed, the marking make some sense for drivers, but the reality is for a few of those lefts during rush hour you want to get in the turn lane earlier. That is pushing people into the bike lane.

In genearl, I like the lane from NH on down. Clearly DDOT needs to put a lot for enforcement on parking in the bike lane -- and that goes for its own trucks -- after throwing down the lane. I do wish they had retained night and weekend parking by the bike lane, as L from NH down to about 18th is so underused on weekends it go to one lane.

by charlie on Nov 14, 2012 11:28 am • linkreport

Cycle tracks are still a pretty new thing in the United States, so it's natural that designers need to experiment a little with different options.

Why experiment and reinvent the wheel, while there are perfect play-by-play books around? Just call the Dutch, German, Belgian or Danish government for their playbook and you're done.

by Jasper on Nov 14, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

Agree that pavement markings are impractical and recommend putting signs in the median with the flex posts before the merge and again at the intersections looking something like this:

Left turn only | Bike | Straight Only

by xmal on Nov 14, 2012 11:38 am • linkreport

Also, I think the delivery trucks read the breaks in the bollards as an excuse to park in the bike lane (in the section that has a break)

by charlie on Nov 14, 2012 11:44 am • linkreport

I wish the bike lane permitted two way bicycle traffic. It's definitely wide enough. It would be twice as useful and busy, and therefore occupying an entire lane of the street is more justifiable. More bike traffic in the track would make it more clear to drivers that it is a bike lane.
If it was more heavily traveled with bikes, clearing it of all cars (including those turning left) would also be more justified, and would eliminate the confusion discussed in the article.

Also, I accidentally thought it was a two way track, after turning onto it from the 15 Street track (which is two way) and had a nasty surprise waiting for me when I reached 16th street and was suddenly traveling into oncoming auto traffic. Yikes!

by Jake on Nov 14, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

I'm curious, do these markings adhere to some US DOT standards, or did DDOT make them up or adopt them from something else? These things rarely work unless they're the same everywhere, and part of driver's education programs.

by Ron on Nov 14, 2012 12:09 pm • linkreport

Thanks Dan and GGW for highlighting my suggestions.

I agree that words with the left arrow isn't the best option. Obviously, a sign either on an adjacent flex post or overhead would be best but we don't have any overhead wires in downtown (to blot out the sun!) and I do think arrows are very simple for drivers to "read."

The sharrow placement (shown in the photo) is the most confusing part to me.

The changes to the mixing area paint are really key — it makes it crystal clear to drivers and bikers that it's a mixing area and delineates where folks are expected to be. And I don't know about any other L street cyclists, but I've certainly not been sharing the car lane to turn left as DDOT suggested was the design in their response to me. I turn left from the green lane, or at least the left side of it. Once a light turns green, there's plenty of room to be to the left of that lane (or even slightly in front of the cars) so as not to block bike traffic behind you, and I'd MUCH rather have the left-turning cars outside of me over my left shoulder rather than in front of them or pinned inside of them between the southbound traffic on the cross street.

Trying to tell drivers that "Hey, that green area is the bike lane, but oh by the way, your lane on the other side is actually a bike lane too" is just going to lead to more confusion for them.

Jake, with the left turning traffic, a two-way track would be disastrous with left turners having yet another variable to look out for. On 15th, the one way car traffic combined with the arrows for left turns (and low car volume by comparison) is what makes it work. And that's why we'll have a companion westbound track on M Street.

But it's crucial that we learn from L Street and all the tweaks that we'll make there and do M Street right the first time.

by Steve D (@whiteknuckled) on Nov 14, 2012 12:14 pm • linkreport

I like @whiteknuckled suggestions to extend the green paint to clearly mark the bike lane as such and to put in the left turn arrows prior to the mixing zone. I'd also like to see the arrow accompanied w/ a "yield to cyclist" marking.
People are clearly starting to get the hang of the lane now and I see fewer people trying to turn from the 2nd lane than the first week or two it was in place. Also, I haven't seen nearly as many vehicles loading/unloading this week, although today a crew is in the turning lane at L and Conn. Ave. doing underground work (and that's pushing cyclists into the 2nd lane from the left).

by thump on Nov 14, 2012 12:22 pm • linkreport

On the enforcement tip, I did see a police officer standing in Conn. (in the same area you describe, thump), stopping every car that turned left from the second lane and telling them how to properly do left turns from the far left lane.

Of course, he stopped the car right in front of me as I was passing through the intersection in the bike lane and trapped me in the intersection while the light turned red, but hey, it's a start. :)

by Steve D (@whiteknuckled) on Nov 14, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

@SteveD; not sure I get your point about two way vs. 15th. L st is also one way, and has dedidicted left turn signals.

I think the difference is just trafic volume?

by charlie on Nov 14, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

More pavement marking are not necessarily better. They need to be concise and meaningful. More markings means more to maintain in the future.

Another observation is that vehicle block the transition zone, especially at L and 16th Streets in the evening rush hour. They also turn left out of the left most thru lane as well...that's really iffy for bicyclists.

by Some Ideas on Nov 14, 2012 12:29 pm • linkreport

My biggest complaint about the L street lane so far is the difficulty of making right turns from the lane. The bike boxes are useful if there is a red light, but cyclists end up stuck if there is a green. My strategy so far has been to merge into the traffic lanes a block or two before my turn, but this defeats the point of having a bike lane in the first place.

by Sam on Nov 14, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

Oops, yeah you're right Charlie. Although L street only has some dedicated left turn signals, but not at every left-turning intersection. Or even most. 17th and L in front of my office for example, is just left turn on green. Which would mean that left-turning cars would have to be looking for peds crossing 17th with a walk sign as well as oncoming bike traffic — on a one-way street. Yikes.

Anyway, it's a moot point. M Street will be the westbound track.

by Steve D (@whiteknuckled) on Nov 14, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

@Steve D; there is a big difference of L depending on which side of Connencticut Ave you are on. And you're right, 16th doesn't have a left turn signal either.

by charlie on Nov 14, 2012 12:58 pm • linkreport

The only way to be clearer is to have less, otherwise it's information overload. There are only so many seconds to process information. The more information you input the more you fry the system (a driver's a cyclist's brain).


by crin on Nov 14, 2012 1:05 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: Dutch bike infrastructure works not because of road design or sign standards. It's a legal liability thing. Under Dutch law, in almost any conceivable scenario of bike hitting car, the car is presumed at fault. The effect is that Dutch drivers are very careful around cyclists. In the U.S. you can kill a cyclist and walk away with nothing more than a $400 ticket.

by crin on Nov 14, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

The current green striping didnt make any sense to me, and the proposal here is the natural proper solution.

Ive seen sharrows with small, bike turn indications, that could be applied as well to indicate where bikes turn.

The straight only and left only pavement markings are necessary.

If drivers are turning left from the straight lane, one additional plastic bollard could be added at the crosswalk.

And finally, if you erase the green that goes to the median, and make the entire green shift on a diagonal, theres room for the yield triangles.

by JJJ on Nov 14, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

It's a death trap. I've lived here for years and I find it confusing as a biker and driver. To have drivers merge from the left is madness - it's their blind spot. How can they see bikes up coming up on the left? Plus, delivery trucks park in it. I've been biking down L for years - I think it was safer before the bike lanes.

by Joe Flood on Nov 14, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

I still think sharrows are confusing as all get out because they look like "this here is a bike-only lane" to anyone who hasn't gone to some kind of bike workshop to tell them what it means (i.e., 99.99999% of drivers). They barely look any different from the bike-only lane markings -- two chevrons instead of a single-headed arrow is the only difference I can see. What a terrible, pathetic design they are.

by iaom on Nov 14, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

@Steve D

“I've certainly not been sharing the car lane to turn left as DDOT suggested was the design in their response to me. I turn left from the green lane, or at least the left side of it.”

You’re turning left from the straight lane. Cars won’t be expecting it and neither will the cyclists behind you. It’s a tight squeeze as it is between the left turning and straight motor vehicle traffic. Having to navigate that tight squeeze in addition to a left turning cyclists who doesn’t want to use the left turn lane is not something I look forward to.

“Once a light turns green, there's plenty of room to be to the left of that lane “

Not even close. Half the cars have their right tires in the green bike lane.

“I'd MUCH rather have the left-turning cars outside of me over my left shoulder rather than in front of them or pinned inside of them between the southbound traffic on the cross street.”

Why would being right in front of the car in a clearly visible spot be less desirable than off to the side? Off to the side is enticing them to try to squeeze by. They might not like you right in front of them, but at least it’s clearer to them that they can’t fit by you.

by UrbanEngineer on Nov 14, 2012 1:57 pm • linkreport

I've been biking down L for years - I think it was safer before the bike lanes.

I have to agree. I've been looking forward to this bike lane for a long time and am disappointed that so far, in its current design, it's actually worse biking on L than before. I don't like the idea of having to look out for cars entering the mixing zone at every intersection.

by Falls Church on Nov 14, 2012 2:19 pm • linkreport

I like the L St cycle track and think its a big improvement. There are some problems but they are fewer than before the cycle track and the current problems are more predictable than before.

by Tina on Nov 14, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport


"Why would being right in front of the car in a clearly visible spot be less desirable than off to the side? Off to the side is enticing them to try to squeeze by."

Probably, but I guess I'm not sure. So far, every time I've used the L Street track I've seen at least one car turn left from the 2nd lane (the left-most "straight" lane). Unless that changes, I don't think I'd want to be too far to the left, particularly since I'm likely to want to turn into the right-most lane on the destination street (otherwise the car that's behind me in the left-turn lane might try to do an end-run around me anyway). The green lane is presumably more visible for cars coming up behind me in the straight lane (though I did see a Pennsylvania driver come within a foot of left-hooking a straight-bound cyclist in the green lane Sunday when the driver turned left from the left-most straight lane after having *just* passed the cyclists only seconds before!).

SteveD's diagram has a bike box in front of the left-turn lane. Is that true for the cycle track now? I can't remember if that's the case, but if it is, won't left-turning bikes use the green lane to the bike box, and then wait there for the light anyway?

Cars driving in the green lane (cars with half their right tires in the green lane are driving in the lane) are a problem for cyclists all over the city, not just left-turning L Street cyclists.

by Steven Harrell on Nov 14, 2012 2:51 pm • linkreport

@Joe Flood. The blind spot is on the right side, not the left. Merging left into a bike lane should thus be safer than the merge-right into the bike lane which is requires at most intersections.

I'm not sure I understand why the mixing zone is so short, however. That might tempt many drivers to squeeze in when they otherwise would do it 50 feet later. It remains to be seen whether we haver fewer left hooks with the current configuration than if the mixing zone were the last 200 feet before the intersection as is the case with most bike lanes in the city (on the right).

by JimT on Nov 14, 2012 4:00 pm • linkreport

Why is this even being designed so that cars are forced to cross over a cycle track? There are most certainly safer and better ways of doing this. The whole point of a cycle track is physically separate bikes from cars, this is only reinforcing bad dynamics.

by Michael on Nov 14, 2012 11:14 pm • linkreport

Unbelievable. How can all these changes to road use be acted upon with NO public re-education. People who use DC roads are from across the US and from other countries. Where is the public information campaign? Where are the national standards and TV/web ads? Where are the flyers at DOTs and car rental places?

by Alex on Nov 15, 2012 6:08 am • linkreport

so at some point yesterday they improved some of the markings. Not quite what this post is recommending. but they put more obvious left turn arrows for the cars and adding some bike lane markings in the green. But there's probably still room for improvement.

by Mike on Nov 15, 2012 9:01 am • linkreport

DDOT added white markers/cone barricades to the bike lane entrance at intersections, preventing cars from entering. Police were also out in force at each intersection this morning, helpfully explaining the new pattern.

by Dave on Nov 15, 2012 9:41 am • linkreport

@MIchael, because of the need for left turns and the fact that the traffic volume is so high and dedicated left turn arrows are not possible like on 15th, there were only a few options for a cycletrack on L Street. And that means cars needing to get on the other side of the lane to turn left. The only other option would have been a track on the right side of the street, which would have meant potential for right hooks at every single intersection.

What are the safer ways of doing this? Because we all went back and forth over the designs back when they were released and there was no consensus on one single plan that would have been much safer for everyone. (Short of banning left turns on L, which wasn't going to happen for obvious reasons.)

Honestly, I think the mixing zones are working pretty well at this point. Bikers and drivers are learning to look to their side as they approach it, and as @JimT points out, bicyclists are on the side of drivers (left) where drivers can MUCH more easily spot them compared to merging or turning right. They're looking out the window closest to the lane! That helps a lot.

Mixing ahead of the intersection is certainly a better plan that trying to make it all happen right at an intersection — where the huge majority of all collisions take place.

I just think a few tweaks could help make things smoother for everyone, especially first time drivers or bikers, without having to download a brochure ahead of time!

by Steve D (@whiteknuckled) on Nov 15, 2012 9:48 am • linkreport

I generally don't like this "mixing" concept... it's confusing and dangerous... but really, it almost seems not to matter since I have not seen ANY cyclists using these green lanes... I have taken dozens of pictures of empty green lanes while the cyclist is careening down the sidewalk or car lane paying no attention to pedestrians or red lights. Why spend all this money on bike lanes that most bike riders are not using?

by Matt on Nov 15, 2012 3:22 pm • linkreport

I have seen many cyclists using the L street lanes just in the few weeks that they have been up. More cyclists will start to use them and plan their trips to use them as they become aware of their existence.

by MLD on Nov 15, 2012 3:58 pm • linkreport

@Steve D/whiteknuckled (and anyone else for that matter):
What is the downside to having no mixing zone and instead having cars turn left from that left most lane?

Cars turning left already have to yield to pedestrians. Would yielding to cyclists add too much of a burden? Paint a green lane in front of the cross walk with an image of a bicycle in it and you're putting drivers on notice to yield to cyclists. Like this:

by 7r3y3r on Nov 15, 2012 5:25 pm • linkreport

I think it is great that DDOT is out there with the traffic control officers, BUT...Someone needs to tell DDOT Traffic Operations NOT to park the van in the right lane at just east of 21st St... :(

This morning and yesterday morning...

by Some Ideas on Nov 16, 2012 9:27 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us